Tag Archives: ekaterina maximova

MacMillan makes it a little better

10 Oct

Autumn weather is settling in and I decided to avoid the chill, bunker down and have an English themed day.  I’m in the mood because I also baked a fruitcake yesterday, from an English recipe friends of our family gave us, and it is divine.  Americans typically have a bad impression of fruitcake, even though most have never eaten it, and those that do eat these nasty bricks of candied fruit and Billy knows what else.  It has to be done right (with minimal candied fruit, by the way), and there’s just no tradition here.  It takes a fair amount of effort to make, and there’s a lot of waiting involved because certain ingredients have to be cooked and then cooled to room temperature while covered, then the cake is baked for a couple of hours, and then that has to be cooled while wrapped in aluminum foil (which ironically, keeps heat in) until the final step, which is splashing the cake with spiced rum for added flavor.  Care has to be taken to cover the ingredients while cooling in order to preserve the moistness of the cake.  It’s a drawn out process, but it’s worth it, and even though I started yesterday it wasn’t ready until TO-DAY!!!  Isn’t it lovely, and harvest festive in its coloring?

And all for me...

And all for me...I can still smell the spiced rum.

So in continuance with the theme, I decided to make myself try and find something to like about Romeo and Juliet…after all, what could be more English than Shakespeare and Elizabethan times?  As I’ve said before, I am not a fan of this ballet…score is creepy, libretto grates on my nerves.  I saw BalletMet stage this a couple of years ago as my first full length classical ballet, although it was a newer staging by a David Nixon.  I don’t remember too many specifics about the production as a whole, but it followed the typical formula for an R&J and I remember thinking it was pretty good, despite my misgivings about the plot and music.  I did have one gripe though, which was a little trio of jesters danced by children.  The weird thing was that they would appear in what felt to me as inappropriate scenes, and I remember one did some gymnastics which was just out of place.  The worst part was that they were dressed in these phosphorescent neon-checkered eye sores.  That one scarred me for life.

But what is it about this story/ballet that makes people go gaga?  And why does it inspire so many choreographers?  There are stagings by contemporary choreographers like the one I saw, but then you have so many influential figures who have done it too like Lavrovsky, Grigorovich, MacMillan, Ashton, Tudor, Nureyev, Cranko to name a few…on the one hand it’s amazing that one story inspired so many legendaries, but on the other it’s a little overwhelming.  I don’t think any of those choreographers are ever going to get me to be able to “get it” in the way that most people do, but most people also drink coffee and I don’t, so I think it’s just my brain that has a loose wire (or several) that render me Shakespeare deficient (I read the play too, and didn’t like that either).  Regardless, I wanted to make the effort since life isn’t just about liking the things we like but learning to deal with the things we don’t.  So I got a Lavrovsky with Ekaterina Maximova and Vladdy-V performing with the Bolshoi, and a MacMillan with Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella performing with La Scala.  That’s a lot of Prokofiev for one day, but I was determined to get through it.

The Bolshoi production was the manifestation of my worst fears.  I loved Maximova as Juliet and her connection with Vladdy-V as Romeo was wonderful.  They were married at the time, so it would’ve been kind of hard not to have the right romantic chemistry.  Unfortunately, the rest of the production felt like a two hour quagmire that set up to a decent third act that I had kind of lost interest in.  There seemed to be very little dancing and a lot (I mean a LOT) of theatrics…expensive theatrics at that, with lavish sets and opulent costumes.  The excessive theatrics really took away from the production feeling like a ballet, and there was this nagging hierarchical separation between the stars and everyone else.  Only the stars really got to dance, with selected divertissements for others, but then the rest was a lot of people standing around or doing folk dancish stuff.  And you know Bolshoi…they can fit five hundred people on stage, so that’s a lot of people not dancing.  I hate to be critical, but it was rather slow and painful, and Mercutio’s death was taking so long I thought I was going to die first.  Plus, there was you guesed it, a jester scene.

La Scala on the other hand…they may not have had the money and the sizable corps, but MacMillan’s choreography made it tolerable (and a tolerable R&J to me should be considered a superb staging for the normal folk).  I should have known MacMillan could save it for me, and the more I see of his work the less I think of him as a choreographer, and more as a storyteller who speaks the language of dance.  He kept the theatrics to a minimum because the story was told through the movement.  He gave corps members a lot of difficult movement as well, which really brought the production together because every character was speaking dance, not just the principals and soloists like with the Bolshoi (in fact, Tybalt seemed to have very little dancing and although Mercutio’s death was slow, it felt like it made more sense).  It made the character interaction much more believable.  And no clowns!  A divertissement with mandolin players, but no clowns!  Overall, the production felt more reflective of human interaction than staged dance.  Corella was fantastic, and very clean in some of the exceptionally challenging MacMillan choreography, like some seriously sick pirouette combinations, but I was in love with Ferri (who has extraordinary feet).  Sweet little impish dove that she is, and yet inconsolable and capable of showing such disgust for Paris in their final pas de deux.  There were times when she gave me chills, and when she resigned herself to suicide, the cameras were able to zoom in on her face and it appeared there were tears in her eyes.  She was an incredibly invested and believable Juliet, and it’s interesting that there is another video of her dancing Juliet with the Royal Ballet some fifteen years earlier.  That would be an interesting comparison…if I could actually stomach watching R&J again.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube of Ferri/Corella and Maximova/Vasiliev, but I wasn’t moved enough to warrant posting them here.  That’ll be the day!  I know I should open myself to the possibility of watching Fonteyn/Nureyev, but not even my love for Tamara Rojo makes me want to get her and Acosta on DVD, so I’m afraid I might be a lost cause.  I’d have to be seriously coerced, or ambushed.

Kickin’ it OLD SKOOL with the Bolshoi Kitris

29 Jul

I’ve mentioned before how you get a lot of ballet crazies who go on youtube and criticize any dancer’s technique that they sink their teeth into, but I’d like to discuss a different species, the crotchety “git offa mah lawn!” people who lament for the golden era in ballet when there was more substance in artistry and less of the “more” (i.e. more turnout, more pirouettes, more flexibility, etc.).  Oh BILLY ELLIOT, do I want to be one of those people.  As it stands, I don’t know enough about ballet history to bunker down with these sages and converse in such a way that makes me seem legitimately intelligent, but despite my typical aversion to history in general I am interested.  You see, history is one of those classes that is almost always taught through reading and lectures, and quite frankly that sucks.  When it comes to history, unless it’s dance history or ancient like Greek or Egyptian, chances are I’m going to be bored. 

I’m going to mount the soapbox here and say that this is something that annoys me about our education system too in that it fails to recognize the importance of different approaches to learning, especially via performing arts.  For example, I suck at anatomy, but have learned various things about it through dance.  I learned foreign languages by using theatre skills of memorization and mimicry.  Teach me about the Cold War in the context of how it affected the Bolshoi and Kirov and I’ll pay attention.  And yet the system seems to be satisfied with a “if you lecture them, they will learn” method, and I’m shouting this loud and clear: it doesn’t work for everyone.  Even without being used as an accessory in education, something like dance needs to have its foothold in academia.  If American society can turn sports and sport strategy, technique, etc. into a friggin’ science, then dance too needs to be seen as more than “an extracurricular activity” or a second major.  Money doesn’t inspire creativity or make life worth living…the arts do.  And in the economic hellhole that is America, inspiration is needed now more than ever.  /rant.

So back to the quest to become a crotchety sage, I’ve learned that one must know at least a few names, especially the greats that made the Bolshoi a household name.  It’s almost uncanny, but a few years ago, before I even set foot in a studio, the first ballet youtube video I ever favorited was a Bolshoi great.  I had no idea at the time who she was, only that I know what I liked and I liked what I saw.  It was a video of Ekaterina Maximova (who passed away earlier this year…something is SRSLY in the air!) as Kitri, and I’m actually quite proud of having selected her to be my first youtube favorite, because it makes me feel as though there is hope for me to indeed be knighted a crotchety sage.  Anyway, there was something darling and electric about her that just made me want to watch her 85 million times in a row, and we’re talking a sheety little black and white film from the 60’s on a small youtube screen, not even the luxury of a live performance or HD.  She was the fastest Kitri I’ve ever seen, for a variation that is normally about a minute long she did it in half the time, which is utterly insane and would never be done today.  But you watch her, and you think to yourself with a Russian accent in your head, “DAAAA! ZIS eez DANSE…from SOUL!” To me, Katya is the ultimate Kitri.  Typically it’s treacherous territory in the arts to proclaim one’s favorite, especially with the youtube piranhas, but hell, I adore her.

One of the other primas with the Bolshoi at the time, Maya Plisetskaya is another one who did the lightning round Kitri variation.  Now Maya is the perfect example of “less of the more” that I wrote about earlier.  She didn’t have the developpé a la seconde above her head, the coveted 6 o’clock penchée, or double/triple fouettes etc.  But her technique being far from inferior, what I love most about her dancing is how unfettered she was by the pursuit of perfection.  Her technique supported her art, instead of becoming the focus of it.  When you start focusing too much on “how high” or “how many” dance becomes so mechanical.  We have these legions of leggy amazonerinas and some days it really seems like ballet has become a factory instead of an institution.  A friend of mine once told me that she had a music teacher tell her that when you take the human element out of music, it ceases to be music.  I think the same can be said for some of these balletbots…what we need are more souls.  That is not to say we should feel guilty for admiring some of these gorgeous dancers, but remember that the approachability of a Maya Plisetskaya probably has a great deal to do with what made her a true artiste.

Anyway, in the videos I am posting below of Maya and Katya, Maya is partnered by the wonderfully delicious Maris Liepa, and Katya by her beast husband Vladimir Vasiliev.  And that’s no insult…I LOVE Vladdy-V.  Gigantor jumps and a Godzilla-presence to match.  Whereas I actually prefer Maris as Basilio because of his charm, the video of Maximova actually has Vladdy-V doing the slave Ali from Le Corsaire as well as a variation from Laurencia.  I can’t even comprehend the insanity that is the double arabesque turn-double attitude-QUINTUPLE pirouette en dedans that he did.  Being the curious monkey I am, I tried that with single pirouettes and basically couldn’t do it.  Long way to go if I aspire to be like him, but I am a lefty…that’s one step down, right?

 

Vladdy-V variations and Lightning Kitri (Katya):

 

DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Maris Liepa and Goddess Plisetskaya:

 

DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Vladdy-V and a hair slower than lightning Katya (in technicolor!):

 

More of Liepa/Plisetskaya, from Act I with Maya’s CRAZY DIVINE castanet variation:

 

So videos for your enjoyment and a little poll with no right answers because that’s the beauty of art.  Don’t you love loving ballet?  I do.